Magical Fury and Magical Burst

Magical-Fury-CoverOn Sunday I launched Magical Fury as a PDF product on DriveThruRPG (also, an updated version of Entanglements as a Pay What You Want product). As I mentioned earlier, it’s a much simpler dark magical girl RPG, which uses a very simple AW engine variant (inspired by The Sundered Land). It’s the product of a particular circumstance and emotions, but on the whole I like it a lot. It has a distinct simplicity and plays with lightning speed even for a rules-light game. The final product wound up being 35 pages, though nearly half of that is a set of 17 d66 tables covering character creation and other aspects of gameplay.

I based it on the Star Princess Astraia story that I really need to get around to writing some day (which gave me an excuse to get art of her done for the cover). It thus has some elements that stem directly from things I’m planning for that, notably the reincarnation aspect and the “change the world” move (inspired by a part where Astraia decides to patrol the streets and winds up in the middle of a confrontation with a police officer).

Magical Burst

One of my goals with Magical Fury was to break through things that were blocking me with Magical Burst. I’ve been working on Magical Burst long enough that it’s accrued a lot of inertia, and coming at a similar concept from a different direction let me come up with some new approaches to handling things. They’re still two different games (and will continue to be so), but quite a few of the things I did with Magical Fury point to simpler, more elegant ways to approach some of the things Magical Burst is meant to do. There’s a lot I like about the Fallout system in Magical Burst, but in play it’s clunky and produces too many instances of Fallout that become hard to work into play. The Shift rules in Magical Fury accomplish a very similar goal in a much simpler way, and provide a clear blueprint for how I’m going to approach revising them.

One really important thing is that Magical Fury wound up being a proof of concept for a system that “summarizes” battles, reducing something that is quite involved in most games down to a few die rolls to find out how things go. As with Slime Story, I want Magical Burst to have both quick battles and more involved ones, though even for the more involved ones I want to avoid the hour-long combats of Magical Burst 4th Draft.

Making the moment of awakening as a magical girl a core, default part of gameplay was also a really effective aspect of Magical Fury in play, and helped bring to life the strangeness of it all. It’s definitely something I want to do with Magical Burst, and I’m leaning towards generally having the game set up to ramp character complexity gradually over time, another concept I’ve been wanting to play with in RPGs in general.

I also wanted to mention a newer magical girl series I saw recently, Yuki Yuna wa Yusha de Aru. If I had to rank them I would put Madoka Magica above it, but it’s nonetheless and enjoyable series with its own sensibilities and themes. It’s difficult to properly explain without spoilers, but sacrifice is a major theme, and the details of what the magical girls (“heroes”) are and how they work are interesting. One fan went as far as to write up Magical Burst rules for the blooming/mankai element from Yuki Yuna.

Although Magical Burst stemmed directly from the inspiration that I got from watching Madoka Magica, it’s never been as much of a Madoka Magica RPG as people seem to think it is. Even so, watching other magical girl anime has definitely been a good thing, and helped the game be that much more its own thing rather than a slavish imitator. While watching more of Sailor Moon, Precure, Lyrical Nanoha, etc. has had its benefits, Yuki Yuna feels more like a Magical Burst game than basically any other series besides Madoka Magica itself.

2014 in Review

2014 was a really weird year for me, and insofar as arbitrary numbers on years have any significance I can’t say I’ll miss this particular one. I got a lot of stuff done (including finally publishing I Want to Be an Awesome Robot), but I also hit a lot of roadblocks elsewhere, and there’s also the thing about losing my day job out of the blue a little before Thanksgiving.

Magical Burst
One of my goals for 2014 was to finish and release a new draft of Magical Burst. I pulled that off, and went on to do some playtesting. I had made a host of refinements to the game, but when all is said and done I found myself deeply unsatisfied with result. There are a lot of reasons why, but I think that the big issue was a failure on my part to really think through some of the fundamentals of gameplay, of the experience I wanted the game to create. Despite this, it’s still basically my most popular game, and continues to get the most hits and downloads of basically anything I’ve done, so to some degree I’ve been feeling a bit obligated to find a way to finish it. At this point I have some ideas on where to go with it next, but I’m not really feeling up into getting into it right now.

In October I vented my frustrations into a game called Magical Fury, a vastly simpler game with similar themes that I wrote over the course of a weekend. I’m still working on revising it, but if it continues to do well in play testing, I’m thinking about doing a small commercial release in PDF form.

Star Line Publishing
2014 wound up being sort of an “in between” year for SLP, mostly about trying to finish up leftover stuff from the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter. We’re gearing up to publish the first GSS supplement and looking at a couple of other games to possibly license, but it’s taking quite a bit of time to get through all of the stretch goal material that came with the Kickstarter. (We’re definitely going to be a bit more conservative about how much we promise in the future.) On the plus side, Faerie Skies and Fantasy Friends are basically just waiting on art and then layout, so while we’ll be slipping past my initial goal of having them done by the end of the year, it shouldn’t be by too much.

Mike, my business partner, has been pretty busy going to conventions to run demos and such. (To the point where as much as he likes GSS, he wants to find time to play other RPGs.) My contributions have mostly been in terms of writing, arranging business stuff, and so forth.  I haven’t run the numbers, but SLP has been modestly profitable so far, and it’s going to be a while before we start making a living from it. In January of this year we moved Maid RPG over to being an SLP product, and set up shop with some venues that Andy hadn’t tried, including selling PDFs through DriveThruRPG and POD books through Amazon (via CreateSpace), The game has been pretty insanely evergreen, and it’s outsold GSS some months. Amazon and DTRPG (along with Indie Press Revolution) have worked really well for us, and basically given the company a steady source of passive income.

Card Games
This was a big year for me doing stuff with card games, albeit nothing that has enjoyed huge amount of commercial success. This year I launched i.hate.everyone as a POD product on DriveThruCards ( though the realities of POD card pricing make it a bit expensive), plus a “deluxe version” of The Bird Game and four volumes of Five-Card Fictions. I have some ideas percolating for some card games with a strong Seiji Kanai influence, with actual substantive rules rather than being fluffy party games, but these are still in very early stages, and haven’t gotten even as far as a prototype. The most exciting of these so far is a game I’m calling “Magical Rail,” which is meant to be played on public transit, hence it’s set up so that as you play the players have all of the cards in their hands between them. (With the theme being cute witches competing to find a special gem as they ride a magical train to witch school.)

D&D
People involved in RPGs in general have a strange relationship with D&D, and I can’t say I’m an exception. This year saw the release of 5th Edition, after the lengthy open playtest and any number of other issues. For me it caused all kinds of stress for reasons I won’t get into here. I did read the actual game (the Starter Set and the Basic Rules) when it came out, and while it’s hard to say how much my emotions about the matter played into it, I found the game really underwhelming. 4E has its good and bad points, but 5E mostly seems to be a deliberately generic D&D, and in more ways than not a retread of stuff that’s already been around for decades. If I decide I really want a dungeon fantasy RPG, it’s at best an average entry in an overcrowded genre. I may still end up playing it (because I have some friends who want to), but nothing about it has made me inclined to spend any more money on it.

Being Human Together
The mess around D&D, combined with how the Magical Burst playtest went, had me trying to work my way through something of a crisis of faith with my relationship with RPGs. I realized that the real core of what makes RPGs worthwhile for me is something that I have taken to calling “being human together.” I’ve been most interested in games that have something to say about the human condition, or otherwise help people come together in interesting ways. I have less of an appetite for complex rules than I used to, and I’ve been a great deal more interested in freeform style games, both for their own sake and as a source of inspiration. It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to position D&D as the opposite of “being human together,” but certainly it’s responsible for some of the games I’ve been in that were the most wanting for that.

This whole thing got me inspired to mess around with some games that better fit that general emotion. I did some more work on Beyond Otaku Dreams, and I started on a Powered by the Apocalypse take on Slime Story that looks really promising so far. I also got inspired to work more on Dragon World (also partly because it takes the piss out of D&D cliches) and try to bring it to fruition, hence I’ve been running more playtests. It’s still a work in progress, and the starburst of the original epiphany has worn off a bit, but it’s still going to inform what I do with RPGs in the future.

DriveThruRPG
In mid-November I got laid off from my job in the video game industry. I got severance pay, but also basically zero warning; I came in for a normal day, and wound up leaving early with cardboard boxes loaded into my car. For the record, if you really have to lay people off, mid-November is one of the worst times to do that to a person. Aside from it being the worst Christmas present ever, companies don’t do all that much hiring around the holidays, so doing a job search becomes even more aggravating than normal. As I write this, I’ve got a couple of leads, but nothing solid as far as the job search goes, and I pretty much expect to make no real progress until after New Year’s. On the plus side, my contacts in tabletop gaming resulted in me getting a fairly large freelance translation job for some card games. Adjusting to not having a daily routine at the office has been significantly more difficult than I expected though.

Reeling from all of this led me to take a game I had started on called Schoolgirl RPG, finish it up, and put up for sale on DriveThruRPG for $2.49, in the hopes of making a little extra money to help make ends meet. It’s basically an attempt to take the rules of Maid RPG and compact them down as far as they’ll go, resulting in a game that’s 7 pages including the cover. I put out a supplement for it, and right now I’m working on two more supplements, and planning to compile all of that stuff into a POD book. The core rules have since become a silver bestseller on DTRPG (also, there’s a Polish version of it in the works),. Along with Schoolgirl RPG, I added the “Ewen’s Tables” series of PDFs of various kinds of d66 tables for use in gaming, a special pre-release version of Retail Magic, and a maid class for Dungeon World.

It’s been a very different mode of publishing compared to what I’m doing for Star Line Publishing. I’ve mostly been making small PDFs, with layouts in Microsoft Word and minimal art, most notably Creative Commons stuff from The Noun Project. The level of freedom and spontaneity it allows me is rather refreshing, especially with the added validation of people giving me money for stuff. I’m not going to be making a living from it any time soon, but the extra income has been really nice all the same.

Restless
A few weeks ago I did a playtest of J. Walton’s game Restless. He originally created it for the Golden Cobra contest (you can see an older version of it in the Golden Cobra anthology), and I found it to be a really fascinating game, one that I think will influence me for a long time to come in the manner of things like Maid RPG and Fiasco. The core of the game is in how you play through one or more “verse cards.” Each of these as a series of paragraphs, and you go through a paragraph at a time, following the instructions to basically improvise a vignette for the game’s post-apocalyptic setting. It’s poised to make good use of the unusual 6″x6″ card format that DriveThruCards offers.

What will actually come of it remains to be seen, but I pretty promptly got inspired to basically attempt not one but three of my old game projects as hacks of Restless. Setting up and playing through pre-made vignettes like that seems to have the potential to be a very powerful tool for telling certain kinds of stories. I’ve already got a new version of Raspberry Heaven nearly ready to playtest, and I’m thinking about seeing if this approach is what I need to be able to pull off Beyond Otaku Dreams and Moonsick, two more games that I’ve been trying to figure out how to design for years.

Odds and Ends

  • I’m working on material for the magical girl piece for Breakfast Cult. Having read a draft of the game, it looks seriously cool, and I’m pretty happy to be able to contribute to it.
  • I’ve been neglecting it, but I started on a project called Magic School Diary, which is basically a diary that you write in-character as a student at a magic school, following the various prompts and activities it gives you.
  • I wrote a mini gamebook thing for my friend’s Madoka Magica doujinshi/fanbook called “Choose Your Own Homura,” which is very silly. It was the first time I finished writing a gamebook, and I definitely want to play around with the medium some more. (Though I really want something that can take a Twine game and spit out a numbered gamebook.)

Conclusions
2013 was a year of hitting critical mass, when I started getting things published and getting noticed in some parts of the industry. 2014 wound up being kind of a weird in-between year, largely spent dealing with stuff stemming from what happened the year before and preparing to make things happen in the future. On the plus side, I’m feeling more empowered than ever to just make stuff and sell it, and I’ve been fortunate to have something of an audience for the stuff I’m doing.

2014 had entirely too many reminders that the RPG scene has some pretty serious problems. For one or two people who I really admire, it became enough to convince them to leave RPGs behind entirely. For my part I still want to stick around; there’s still some really cool stuff going on, and I like being able to do my part to make RPGs weird. More importantly, I want to strive to be some small part of the solution.

It sounds a bit melodramatic, but I’m going into 2015 with high hopes for the future. I don’t have any specific resolutions or goals, just a bunch of things I need to do and even more things I want to try.

About Magical Fury

Back in October I participated in a “tradgames jam,” and over the course of a few days wrote a first draft of a game called “Magical Fury.” The idea was to write a short and simple dark magical girl name, to play around with some of the ideas I’d been developing for my “Star Princess Astraia” story and hopefully shake out some cobwebs on Magical Burst. Magical Fury is kind of its own animal, but also kind of a Magical Burst Lite, with some similar things handled in a much simpler and smoother way. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two games, but then Magical Fury pretty much exists because of my dissatisfaction with Magical Burst.

Compared to my attempt at a Magical Burst novel (Magical Girl Radiant Yuna), Star Princess Astraia is a bit more brutal, and more focused on conflicts between magical girls. In that respect it hews a bit closer to Madoka Magica, as well as Lyrical Nanoha. It has reincarnation of magical girls (a darker take on what happens in Sailor Moon) as a major conceit, and thus magical girls have a (potentially risky) ability to look back to past lives. (Thus the story’s inciting incident is when a magical girl shows up at the protagonist’s work, threatening to start killing people unless the reincarnation of Star Princess Astraia reveals herself.)

It’s kind of a Powered by the Apocalypse game, in the same sense as The Sundered Land, and generally a very light, story-oriented game. The dice mechanics pretty much some straight from Sundered Land, and are a lot like if you took the basic AW rules and assumed that everyone has a +1 in all stats. It doesn’t use anything like HP or Harm though. Moves give outcomes and sometimes call for magical girls to take points of Magic or Trauma, which in turn can make them have problems (kind of like fallout in Magical Burst, but much simpler). After writing moves that say things like, “When you have a moment of true desperation…” or “When you try to do something that affects the real world…” I feel like I’m definitely using the framework much better than I did in Magical Burst.

One of the major things I like about it is that it has the part about girls becoming magical girls hard-coded into the default way to start playing the game. It’s a really important moment in virtually every magical girl story, and I think the lack of such is a big weakness of Magical Burst.

It also reduces combat down to a handful of rolls. While the tactical combat system I put together for Magical Burst is fun in its own right, it’s also time-consuming enough to dominate each game session. While I don’t dislike tactical combat–I enjoyed playing D&D4e regularly for years–there are times when it isn’t what I want, and when protracted battles just get annoying. Cutting it down to a few rolls and evaluating the outcome is a really refreshing alternative. I wouldn’t want to go that route in every game, but it seems to work pretty well for this one.

The new revision I’m working on adds an element of turn-taking scene framing inspired by Shinobigami. Shinobigami is a Japanese RPG (with an English release from Kotodama Heavy Industries planned) about modern-day anime-style ninjas. It’s a bit more mechanistic than what I have in mind for Magical Fury, but the basic gameplay puts PCs in competition and has them take turns setting up scenes trying to accomplish various goals. They thus ferret out secrets, form bonds, and have the occasional skirmish as well. Magical Fury’s take on it will be a bit looser, with the option to start a scene and see where it goes, and with the GM taking turns that they use to complicate the PCs’ lives and have threats creep closer.

Overall, Magical Fury is much more a “story game,” much more a set of tools to provoke you into telling an improvised story together. At this point I really don’t know where I’ll go with it, but it’s one of the projects I’m the most excited about just now. At the very least it’s going to be a massive influence on whatever Magical Burst turns into next, but I kind of want to bring Magical Fury to fruition on its own. A thin, simple book that won’t be table-torture for whoever I get to do layout.

Dragon World Hack 0.3

Dragon World is a game I’ve been working on for a while now, and at this point one of my more polished games. It’s an Apocalypse World hack (or as the parlance came to be in the time since I started working on it, a Powered by the Apocalypse game) for comedic fantasy in the general style of anime series from the 90s like Slayers and Dragon Half.

This new version has important tweaks and revisions throughout, but not any huge changes. It also adds the Shiny Paladin class to round out an even dozen in the book, and the setting section has several new entries, including the Kickin’ Rad Skeletons, the Desert of Yunqarth (with the Ma’al of the Western Fields in there somewhere), and the Moon (home to a degenerate Lunarian civilization that at this point can only communicate through interpretive dance).

I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun with this game already, and I’m currently running a playtest campaign that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s high on my list of games to full-on publish before too long, though it will undoubtedly need some more tweaking first.

Dragon World Hack 0.3
Dragon World Playbooks

Making Stuff

On Friday, November 14th, I got laid off from my day job. I don’t want to get into that too much here, but suffice to say I should’ve started looking for a new job before events forced the issue. (Though if anyone out there has any job leads by all means please get in touch with me!) Aside from the job search, to stay sane I’ve been making things, like a lot.

Schoolgirl RPG

“Schoolgirl RPG” is the result of compacting the Maid RPG rules down about as far as they’ll go, resulting in a 7-page comedy RPG about Japanese schoolgirls. Apart from that it’s very open-ended, and largely an excuse to throw around random events and such. I’m in the process of working on a couple of small supplements for it too, namely “Extra Credit” (which adds a bunch more tables for various purposes) and “Otoko no Michi” (which adds rules for schoolboys, heavily inspired by Cromartie High). Schoolgirl-RPG-Cover Retail Magic: Golden Friday Edition

Also a Maid RPG derivative, Retail Magic is a game about employees at a magic item shop in a fantasy world, and a weird blend of Slayers-style fantasy anime and cynical Western comedy about retail. The “Golden Friday Edition” is a fully playable basic version, without the bells and whistles I’m hoping to put into the final version. I’m hoping that it will succeed enough to get people interested in the game and thereby clearly justify full-on publishing a final version in print with art and everything. I had originally planned to release it on Black Friday, but my artist friend took an extra day making the cover art be amazing. (And by the way, although they’re a bit rough, here are the Employee Sheet and Boss Sheet.) Retail-Magic-Cover Five-Card Fictions

I also finished three new Five-Card Fictions decks, in addition to the original Miyuki Days deck. I was originally planning to stop at three decks total, but I hit on the idea of doing a “Karin Days” deck about Miyuki’s rival and sometimes girlfriend, which resulted in one of my best-written decks so far. I’ve started offering print-and-play PDFs for $1.99, and since the proofing process is done they’re also available in print on demand.

  • Thralls of the Red God: A sword and sorcery story, drawing on authors like R.E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, as well as RPGs like Swords Without Master and In a Wicked Age. The Champion heads into the wastes to find his destiny, but the Red God has other plans.
  • Strange Geometries: Inspired by the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Strange Geometries concerns an Argentinian man reading a strange book, with a knife fight possibly looming in his future. Owing to the wealth of suitable public domain images, it’s probably the best-looking deck so far.
  • Karin Days: A sequel of sorts to Miyuki Days, starring the rich girl who is Miyuki’s rival. This one gets even more surreal and also has some fairly cutting satire.

Miyuki-Cover-FrontRed-God-Cover-Front-FrontSG-Front-FontKarin-Front-Front

The Maid (for Dungeon World)

Probably the weirdest (in a cool way) thing to come out of this is that I made a Maid class for Dungeon World. It is very deliberately inspired by Maid RPG, and in fact has a move that involves random events, as well as stuff using Favor points. It was pretty fun to do, and got a decent response. The art, in case you’re wondering, is stock art (絵素材) that I bought from DLSite.com, one of the major Japanese doujinshi e-book type sites.

Cover

Ewen’s Tables

Inspired by a certain guy’s lists, I started a small side thing of making PDFs of d66 tables useful for generating various things for RPGs or other purposes. The first one was for Fantasy Names, providing names for human, elven, dwarven, and halfling characters suitable for D&D, Pathfinder, and other dungeon fantasy type games. I followed that with Super Names, Anime Stuff, Odds and Ends, Anime Stuff 2, Odds and Ends 2, and Titles. They haven’t been super-successful or anything, but they’ve sold a few here and there, and they were fun to do, and I’ve made enough that I wound up making my own product category for them. If this silliness goes on long enough I’ll probably make a book out of them.

Ewen's-Tables---Odds-and-Ends-1

Anyway, that’s all for now. There’s all sorts of exciting stuff on the horizon, but I haven’t yet figured out a real path forward.

Choose Your Own

To Be Or Not To BeThe notion of a book where the reader makes choices as they progress through a story seems to have first appeared (being described but not executed) in a Jorge Luis Borges story. The early branching path books were more educational tools (I remember one I had when I was young about the structure of atoms), but the best-known series is easily the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I’d always been interested in the idea of Choose Your Own Adventure books and other kinds of gamebooks, but at the same time I often wasn’t a fan of the subject matter they chose. The actual CYOA books, as well as things like Lone Wolf, can come off as a caricature of deadly old-school D&D, games that just hate the idea of your character being alive. The first gamebook I really and truly enjoyed was Ryan North’s To Be or Not To Be, a tongue in cheek take on the story of Hamlet. There are still plenty of ways for your character to die, but you can also do things like wind up with Hamlet’s father joining forces with other ghosts to fight an invasion of alien ghosts, so finding the many, many different endings is a major part of the fun rather than a source of frustration. Not unlike with playing party card games, it’s a lot easier to lose horribly and still have a great time. I’m still in the process of exploring what’s out there, but gamebooks have become a thing on Kindle and other ebook platforms, not to mention the success of Twine, which has helped a ton of people get their first taste of game design and become a major part of the Interactive Fiction scene. (There’s also the thing that Japanese visual novels are often basically COYA games with voice samples and character art.)

I’ve made one or two attempts at writing gamebooks in the past, but I completed one for the first time with Choose Your Own Homura, a very silly Madoka Magica mini-gamebook that will be a part of my friend C. Ellis‘ Madoka fanbook project. It is full of goofy references, including Charles Barkley and a couple of Wizard People Dear Reader nods. I wrote CYOH in Twine, and then converted it to a format suitable for dead tree printing afterwards. I haven’t explored other options too much, but Twine is pretty excellent, and it outputs an HTML file that you can play on virtually any device with a browser. Making the version for printing was kind of a pain, despite my having a decent command of Excel Sorcery (by which I mean VLOOKUP and a couple other useful formulas), so I’m hoping I can find some kind of automated solution for that before I launch into more ambitious gamebook projects.

I suspect it will get easier with practice, but to me the single biggest challenge of writing a gamebook is that (for me at least) it creates a particularly high degree of separation between the writer/designer’s point of view and that of the reader/player. The reader necessarily experiences a small fraction of the gamebook’s content on each playthrough, while the writer has to take a big-picture view of the overall decision tree’s many branches. I think it’s easier for me to get a sense of the way game mechanics will work because they’re something you have to apply in a variety of situations, whereas as a gamebook author you have already lost the feeling of making a choice for the first time and not knowing where it will take you. I haven’t yet tried working with anything besides simple branching choices, but with Twine and even with gamebooks there’s some really interesting possibilities with those kinds of things.

Tentatively my plan is that once the fanbook is sold out I’ll see about putting CYOH up for sale on Gumroad (I Want to be an Awesome Robot is available through there now too BTW), and to explore doing more gamebook thinks in the future, high on the list being “Octaviadventure,” which will probably be a part of Most of My Friends Are Potential Supervillains (the sequel to Awesome Robot). I certainly have no shortage of concepts/games that could make for a fun gamebook, and on top of that they could make interesting companion or promotional pieces for other games. A friend even suggested setting up a Choosatron at a convention booth to give people both a taste of your game’s general feel and a personalized souvenir to take home.

With this, Magic School Diary, and Five-Card Fictions I’m generally enjoying working with stuff that allows for solo play. It’s a very different kind of writing/design to be sure, but it also has the massive advantage of being able to test stuff (to some degree) by myself whenever I have time to spare.

September Update

The other day I sat down and watched Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to make a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. While it’s hard not to lament what could’ve been–a Dune movie that involved Moebius, Chris Foss, H.R. Geiger, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd, and more besides–I came out of it feeling creatively energized. The Jodorowski that emerges through the film is an iconoclastic weirdo who has a vision and boldly pursues it. He’s the kind of guy who refers to the key creative people helping him as his “warriors,” and who sought to make a film that would be a “prophet” that changed mankind. Even though it didn’t come together because of the studios being unwilling to finance it, his vision still profoundly influenced science fiction, and he further went on to put as much of that vision as he could into comics. I don’t think I have the wild-eyed ambition to aspire to make a prophet or to bug Mick Jagger to be in a movie, but I can’t help but admire Jodorowski for it. For me it hasn’t been all that unusual to start on a project and then eventually discover that for one reason or another I actually needed to try doing it in a completely different medium or otherwise radically change my approach.

I kind of feel like I’ve been sliding towards being a guy who makes various kind of things that use words in interesting ways, of which RPGs are just one component. And I think I’m okay with that. The thing I like the most about where I am now is that I feel empowered to just make stuff. My self-published stuff now includes two books and three cards games (and one of the card games now spans four different products). A whole lot of people come off as though they’re waiting for someone to give them permission, but we’re at about the best time in human history (so far) for having tools to let a person make a vision happen and reach people. I’ve pursued some downright quixotic projects, but I’ve been able to make them happen without breaking the bank. I think I spent roughly $400 on I Want to be an Awesome Robot in all, which for my self-published stuff is way at the high end. For Miyuki Days I used a piece of pixel art I had commissioned for something else a while back and a bunch of public domain and creative commons art, so the monetary expenses basically amounted to getting a proof printed. All of that isn’t to say I don’t want to do more ambitious projects as well, just that I think there’s something to be said for blazing through bringing a simpler project to fruition by myself sometimes. The sense of accomplishment is certainly help me keep up some kind of creative momentum.

Magic School Diary

I’ve wanted to make something or other about a magic school for ages, and even started building up a particular one in my head: the Mage Academy. MA is a relatively new American school, and its founders wanted to create a modern institution and overcome the flaws they saw in the older schools. (So yes, it is in part a reaction to the many harmful and sometimes just plain baffling aspects of Hogwarts.) I had a few different ideas for what medium it would actually use, from an RPG to a novel to a solo RPG, and more recently I hit on the idea of presenting it in the form of a sort of journal book. There are a fair number of journals and such that give suggestions and guidance for what to write about, and in some cases, for various non-writing things to do. I have a book called 642 Things To Write About, which is a collection of writing prompts with lines to write on. There’s also Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal, which is a brazenly transgressive series of tasks to deface the book in various ways. (Some of her other books seem a little calmer, more about building up something though.) The’re the Listography books too, which ask you to create a sort of autobiography in the form of various kinds of lists. And of course there’s the children’s activity books, which I wound up researching a bit for the weird Fun Activities section of I Want to be an Awesome Robot. Personally I’m the sort of person who normally doesn’t write in books at all (not a moral thing or anything like that; it’s simply something that doesn’t normally occur to me to do), but there’s something neat about books that are meant for it.

Although there’s a lot of semi-antecedents, as far as I know, I’m making the first such book to be all about guiding the reader in creating a narrative. In the book’s story, MA is trying out a “Magic School Diary Program” to help students maintain a personal timeline (in case temporal weirdness happens) and provide basic “study activities.” The activities serve as an excuse to add Fun Activities to the proceedings, including learning a (made up) runic alphabet, collecting leaves for a spell, and finding a plushie to be your familiar. A portion of the entries will call for rolling dice for ideas or to see what happens next, and while the book leaves a lot of room for the user to find their own story, there’ll also be some storylines woven into the book.

"Universal Runes," which a friend of mine designed, originally for a sci-fi/fantasy campaign I was running several years back.
“Universal Runes,” which a friend of mine designed, originally for a sci-fi/fantasy campaign I was running several years back.

As much as I liked the diary writing solo RPG concept, the Magic School Diaries solo RPG I had started working on was set to balloon to a pretty massive size, with lots of tables providing events, NPC reactions, and so forth. Not having rules for character stats and such limits certain things about the journal version, but it’s also freeing in a lot of ways. Being onto something that’s a bit sui generis is also pretty phenomenally exciting, though it also carries any number of challenges, the biggest of which being the question of figuring out the right balance of the various kinds of content and activities to sustain someone through 300 or so pages. To start with the plan is to put the book together in Word (with an Excel spreadsheet to help me plan stuff out) and get some POD books made so I can test it out. That’s going to take some time, but if it works out well I could see doing a Kickstarter to pay to hire people for artwork, graphic design, and layout to make it as pretty as I’m imagining it could be.

Card Games

On the card game front (which is a thing in my life now apparently), I got Miyuki Days and The Bird Game up for sale on DriveThruCards. The Bird Game is fun, but it was always a weird joke, so I kept the graphic design of it deliberately basic, though I didn’t go into purposely bad Comic Sans territory or anything. For Miyuki Days I also stayed fairly simple, though putting a different icon (from The Noun Project) on the back of each of 50 cards did add a fair amount of time to the process (though Data Merge made it much less painful than it could’ve been). Unlike i.hate.everyone, they have few enough cards to actually come at a reasonable price despite being POD, so they’ve actually sold a few copies. They were both fun to make and fun to play with. I’m still planning to make some more Five-Card Fictions decks to follow Miyuki Days, but they take time and I have a bunch of other things going on.

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The major new thing in the Deluxe Edition of The Bird Game is the addition of a set of pre-made prompts. To keep down the number of cards, I made 12 cards with 6 prompts each.

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Slime Story

The big thing I’m currently working on for Slime Story is working on the selection of monsters. I had some figured out already, and I bought the newest Pokemon Pokedex strategy guide to look at for inspiration. On the whole I’ve set myself a difficult task though, since Slime Story monsters are supposed to be neither humanoid nor outwardly artificial, which cuts out a bigger swath of possibilities than you might think.

Other Bits and Pieces

  • I am writing something for my friend C. EllisMadoka Magica fan book. It’s exciting, though I’m just getting started.
  • I am going to be writing something for Ettin’s Breakfast Cult game. Surprising absolutely no one, I’m going to be writing stuff about magical girls. Having just enough clout that people are asking me to write RPG stretch goal material is goddamn weird, but also kinda cool.
  • The artwork for Fantasy Friends and Faerie Skies is coming along nicely, and I’m hoping to send the manuscripts to an editor soon as well. I’m planning to share some in a Kickstarter update soon.
  • For Star Line Publishing, we’re in the early planning stages of a Kickstarter for the first official Golden Sky Stories supplement, and we’re also very seriously looking at some other possible games to license.
  • I have been working a little bit on the “Hand Maid Edition” of Maid RPG (the idea being to produce a smaller, sleeker rulebook), including reworking the steward rules a bit (since I was planning to include them in the book), with the aim of making them better able to facilitate equal-opportunity fanservice.
  • I have some ideas percolating for Magical Burst. I’m probably going to wind up doing another massive revision.
  • I am playing Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 3, because apparently the video game that interests me most right now is in Japanese and was published in 1998. It’s a mixture of visual novel stuff with grid-based tactical combat, and it’s a lot of fun.